Welcome to my blog! I have wanted to cultivate the habit of writing for a long time—one of life’s greatest pleasures is learning a new way of seeing the world and sharing that view with other people. Plus, writing is a powerful tool for organizing and understanding one’s own thoughts and generating new ideas. Despite this, I have found writing to be an incredibly frustrating and unsatisfying task. I have tried to articulate the possible problems, and I came up with several.
First, I feel on a gut level that I shouldn’t write about something unless I’m an expert. If I make a false statement, then all I’ve done is spread misinformation and opened myself up to the humiliation of being wrong in public. The second-hand embarrassment of watching someone else mess up is nothing compared to the mortification of realizing I’ve messed up publicly myself. And even if I am right, it still feels presumptuous to lecture others without any credentials.
Second, even if I manage to avoid messing up, my writing will never be as good as the best writing available on the subject. There’s no reason for you to read my blog when you could read a book by an expert instead; they can explain the subject better than I ever could. All blogging can do is add more noise that everyone has to sift through to find the signal. Ninety percent of the internet is crap—why should I pile more on?
As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes. — Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, 1755
Third, I feel strongly that in order to make a blog worth the reader’s time, the content must be novel. But it’s impossible to be consistently new and brilliant, and if my content is truly novel then I can’t make sure it’s right (see the first point). This means that I reject ninety-nine ideas out of a hundred, and the few ideas I do find worth writing down I find so difficult to write about that I give up.
Fourth, I am a perfectionist and I wasn’t satisfied with anything I wrote from a purely mechanical point of view. No idea was explained properly, no paragraph well-written enough, no sentence structure exactly right. I spent months working on an article about the origins of the twelve-tone equally tempered scale and gave up when I realized I had basically rewritten three chapters of an introductory physics textbook because I thought explaining sound from first principles was a necessary prerequisite.
These beliefs set the bar for writing unattainably high, but I could not shake them. In the original version of this post, I wrote that I would just “attempt to rebel against my gut and write about things despite my lack of qualifications”. Predictably, this did not get my anywhere. But after articulating the above points, I realized that I have been thinking about writing wrong the whole time. (See? Writing does improve thinking!)
I realized that I have always unconsciously equated writing with teaching. I, the writer, have information that I would like to impart to you, the reader. By making my writing public, I am asserting that I am a trustworthy source—a domain expert—and that you should trust me. To write otherwise would be presumptuous and irresponsible. If my claims are false, then I have misled you and I should be called out on it so I don’t mislead others. And if my writing isn’t the best, I’m basically tricking you and wasting your time.
But very little writing is actually like this—in fact, it really only applies to writing textbooks, scientific papers, and the like. The best blogs are not a series of Wikipedia entries teaching the reader—they’re more like a record of the author’s thought processes and impressions as they react to and digest information. A blog doesn’t even need to make any claims at all; you don’t have to say “this is how it is”, you can just say “this is how it seems to me”. I knew, on some level, that this was true. But subconsciously I viewed writing a blog exactly like writing a textbook, with all the responsibility to the reader that entails.
I think I have dissolved the first through third problems (the fourth remains—you don’t want to know how long it took me to write this). I don’t have any specific plans for this blog; there is no topic or consistent theme. I expect I will post mostly book reviews and short sketches of essays for the foreseeable future. I expect my writing style to be self-absorbed and pretentious, my choice of topics incoherent, and my hiatuses frequent. But I want to try writing one post per week, even if I think what I have really sucks.